Ethiopian “One Health” Club Engages High School Students for Rabies Eradication Campaign

Wednesday, 24 May 2017 - 3:39pm
OHCEA Network Country: 
Jimma University One Health Student Club members educate high school students about rabies.

In April 2013, in Aynalem Village, located in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, a rabid dog bit two cows and three people. Around the same time, several hyenas, suspected of having rabies, were found dead. In a separate incident in 2003, several hundred endangered Ethiopian wolves, the world’s rarest canid, died of suspected rabiesRabies, an infectious disease that can be passed from animals to humans and fatal without timely treatment, is an emerging epidemic in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has one of the highest reported per capita rates of human rabies deaths in the world, with approximately 15,000 deaths annually.

One contributing factor is a lack of public awareness about rabies, including the need for post-exposure treatment and for vaccinating domestic dogs, which are the primary disease carriers.

Jimma University in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region is part of the One Health Central and Eastern Africa (OHCEA) network. Formed through a USAID project, the network encourages university student clubs to engage multiple disciplines to solve public health threats which stem from humans and animals sharing an environment together and to equip students with the knowledge, mindset, and skills to work with communities to address infectious diseases, like rabies. Jimma University’s student club was established in October 2015 with 140 students from medicine, veterinary, environmental science, agriculture, and public health sectors. The One Health approach recognizes that the health of animals, humans and the environment are inter-linked. Therefore, confronting health threats requires collaboration across sectors.

To address Ethiopia’s rabies problem, Jimma University’s One Health Student Club initiated a campaign called “Eradicate Rabies in Ethiopia.” Because teenagers care for domestic dogs in most communities in Ethiopia, the campaign decided to educate high school students about rabies.

In its first rabies awareness effort, the student club targeted Seto High School in January 2016, reaching 500 students, mostly 9th and 10th graders. The Jimma University students prepared brochures and posters about the causes, effects, transmission, and control of rabies.

The club members distributed brochures and shared rabies information with their high school counterparts. One of the student club members, Atsede Milashu, read a poem on rabies and its dangers. The Jimma University students also communicated information on the One Health approach to prevent and respond to emerging pandemics.

“Our vision is to reach students from primary to secondary schools informing them about One Health and infectious disease prevention. We believe that students impact their families and communities” said Gelan Kuse, president of the student club.

This is just the first step for the Jimma University student club. They plan to take the rabies campaign nationwide to other communities in Ethiopia, including vaccination control of stray dogs and adding other infectious diseases like tuberculosis, brucellosis and Ebola. Student club members also plan to assist other high schools in initiating their own One Health student clubs to address public health threats at the animal-human-environment interface. Through this process, the student club members are building their skills and competencies in emergency preparedness and response, getting ready to fight the next pandemic.